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Miller v. Winn

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

March 29, 2018

ERIC MILLER, Petitioner,
v.
THOMAS WINN, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS, DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND DENYING LEAVE TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS ON APPEAL

          TERRENCE G. BERG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         This is a habeas case brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Michigan prisoner Eric Anthony Miller (“Petitioner”) was convicted of three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.520b(1)(c), first-degree home invasion, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.110a(2), unlawful imprisonment, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.349b, and aggravated stalking, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.411i, following a jury trial in the Lapeer County Circuit Court. He was sentenced in 2010 to concurrent terms of 1) 18 years, 9 months to 40 years imprisonment on the criminal sexual conduct convictions; 2) 7 years, 11 months to 20 years imprisonment on the home invasion conviction; 3) 7 years, 2 months to 15 years imprisonment on the unlawful imprisonment conviction; and 4) 2 to 5 years imprisonment on the stalking conviction.

         In his pro se petition, Petitioner raises claims concerning the sufficiency of the evidence, the admission of certain evidence, the denial of a directed verdict motion, the denial of a resentencing motion, the scoring of the sentencing guidelines, the effectiveness of trial and appellate counsel, the conduct of the prosecutor, the jury instructions, the failure to produce a witness, and the failure of the trial judge to recuse himself. For the reasons set forth, the Court denies the petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The Court also denies a certificate of appealability and denies leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal.

         II. Background

         Petitioner's convictions arise from stalking and sexually assaulting his former girlfriend at her home in Lapeer County, Michigan in 2009. The Michigan Court of Appeals described the relevant facts as follows[1]:

The complaining witness testified that she and defendant had had an intimate relationship, but that when she wished to end it, defendant contacted her with such persistence, both in person and by electronic means, that she came to feel harassed and threatened.
The complainant further testified that, on the night of November 2-3, 2009, when she was in her bedroom and in the early stages of sleep, defendant appeared, undressed and brandishing a knife. According to the complainant, defendant threatened her with the knife, forcibly penetrated her vagina with his penis, and then forcibly penetrated her anus with his penis. The complainant continued that defendant admonished her that they were going to get back together, that she was going to tell that to her friends and family, and that she was otherwise going to abide by his terms and conditions. Then, according to the complainant, in response to some impatience, defendant forcibly inserted a sexual aid into her vagina, and left it there for at least ten minutes while he continued his threats and demands. Before leaving, defendant told the complainant not to speak of the assault to anyone, and spoke of consequences should she fail to accede to that and his other terms and conditions.
The complainant testified that in the days immediately following, defendant was constantly initiating communications, by phone and text messaging, and repeatedly insisting that she see him, and threatening her with consequences if she crossed him.

People v. Miller, No. 300209, 2012 WL 2362478, *1 (Mich. Ct. App. June 21, 2012)(unpublished).

         After he was sentenced, Petitioner appealed his conviction to the Michigan Court of Appeals. In that appeal Petitioner challenged the sufficiency of the evidence, the admission of certain evidence, the scoring of the sentencing guidelines, the effectiveness of trial counsel, the prosecutor's charging decision, the jury instructions, the failure to produce a witness, and the failure of the trial court to recuse itself. The court denied relief on those claims and affirmed Petitioner's convictions and sentences. Id. at *2-13. Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court, which was denied in a standard order. People v. Miller, 493 Mich. 917, 823 N.W.2d 602 (2012).

         Petitioner then filed a motion for relief from judgment with the state trial court raising claims about the effectiveness of his trial and appellate counsel and the prosecutor's conduct. The trial court denied his motion finding that the claims lacked merit and that Petitioner failed to establish cause and prejudice under Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D). People v. Miller, No. 09-010234-FC(MH) (Lapeer Co. Cir. Ct. July 13, 2013). Petitioner filed a delayed application for leave to appeal challenging the trial court's procedural ruling, which was also denied for lack of merit. People v. Miller, No. 317613 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 4, 2013). Petitioner then filed an application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court, which was denied pursuant to Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D). People v. Miller, 495 Mich. 978, 843 N.W.2d 763 (2014).

         Petitioner then filed this federal habeas petition in which he raises the following claims:

I. Due Process Violation - Insufficient Evidence to Convict
II. Due Process Violation - Improper Trial Court Rulings
III. Due Process Sentencing Violation - Incorrect Statutory Sentencing Guidelines Calculation
IV. Sixth Amendment Violation - Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
V. Due Process Violation - Prosecutorial Misconduct
VI. Due Process Violation - Incorrect Jury Instruction
VII. Confrontation - Failure to Produce Witness
VIII. Due Process Violation - Failure of Trial Judge to Recuse Himself
IX. Due Process Violation - Insufficient Evidence to Convict
X. Sixth Amendment Violation - Ineffective Assistance of Trial Counsel
XI. Sixth Amendment and Due Process Violations - Ineffective Assistance of Appellate Counsel

         Respondent has filed an answer to the petition contending that it should be denied. Petitioner has filed a reply to that answer.

         III. Standard of Review

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2241 et seq., sets forth the standard of review for federal courts considering habeas petitions brought by prisoners challenging their state court convictions. The relevant provision states:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim--
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding

28 U.S.C. §2254(d) (1996).

         “A state court's decision is ‘contrary to' . . . clearly established law if it ‘applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court cases]' or if it ‘confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [that] precedent.'” Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003) (per curiam) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)); see also Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002). A federal habeas court may therefore grant the writ under § 2254(d)(1) if the state court correctly identifies the governing legal principle from Supreme Court precedent, but “unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of petitioner's case.” Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413); see also Bell, 535 U.S. at 694. The state court's application, however, must have been ‘objectively unreasonable, ' and more than just incorrect or erroneous. Wiggins, 539 U.S. at 520-21 (citations omitted); see also Williams, 529 U.S. at 409.

         Section 2254(d)(1) also limits a federal court's review to whether the state court's decision comports with clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court at the time the state court rendered its decision. Williams, 529 U.S. at 412; see also Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 122 (2009). Federal circuit or district court cases do not constitute clearly established Supreme Court law and cannot provide the basis for federal habeas relief. See Parker v. Matthews, 567 U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2148');">132 S.Ct. 2148, 2155 (2012) (per curiam); see also Lopez v. Smith, ___ U.S. ___135 S.Ct. 1, 2 (2014) (per curiam). But lower federal courts may be useful in assessing the reasonableness of a state court's decision. Stewart v. Erwin, 503 F.3d 488, 493 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Williams v. Bowersox, 340 F.3d 667, 671 (8th Cir. 2003)); Dickens v. Jones, 203 F.Supp.2d 354, 359 (E.D. Mich. 2002). The state court decision need not cite the Supreme Court cases or reflect any awareness of those cases creating this clearly established law, “so long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the state- court decision contradicts them.” Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002); see also Mitchell, 540 U.S. at 16.

         Finally, federal habeas review is “limited to the record that was before the state court.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011). And the state court's factual determinations are presumed correct on federal habeas review, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); though a petitioner may rebut this presumption with clear and convincing evidence.

         The result is a “highly deferential standard” for federal habeas court reviewing state court rulings. Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (quoting Lindh, 521 U.S. at 333, n. 7; Woodford v. Viscotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam)).

         IV. Analysis

         a. Sufficiency of the Evidence, Directed Verdict (Habeas Claims I, II, IX)

         Petitioner asserts that he is entitled to habeas relief because the prosecution presented insufficient evidence to support Petitioner's convictions; specifically that the prosecution failed to present DNA or biological evidence and that the victim was not a credible witness. He also argues that the trial court erred in denying his directed verdict motion. In particular, Petitioner asserts that the prosecution failed to present DNA or biological evidence and that the victim was not a credible witness. Respondent contends that these claims lack merit.

         The federal due process clause “protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged.” In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970). The question on a sufficiency of the evidence claim is “whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979). The Jackson standard must be applied “with explicit reference to the substantive elements of the criminal offense as defined by state law.” Brown v. Palmer, 441 F.3d 347, 351 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Jackson, 443 U.S. at 324 n. 16).

         A federal habeas court views this standard through the framework of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Martin v. Mitchell, 280 F.3d 594, 617 (6th Cir. 2002). Thus, under the AEDPA, challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence “must survive two layers of deference to groups who might view facts differently” than a reviewing court on habeas review - the factfinder at trial and the state court on appellate review - as long as those determinations are reasonable. Brown v. Konteh, 567 F.3d 191, 205 (6th Cir. 2009). “[I]t is the responsibility of the jury - not the court - to decide what conclusions should be drawn from the evidence admitted at trial.” Cavazos v. Smith, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 2, 4 (2011) (per curiam). “A reviewing court does not re-weigh the evidence or re-determine the credibility of the witnesses whose demeanor has been observed by the trial court.” Matth ...


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